Wayne Taylor Racing scored an emotional and hard-fought victory in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway, the opening round of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Second-generation racers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, former four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, and in his final race before retirement, former Autobacs Super GT Series driver Max Angelelli all did their part to power the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R to victory.
Angelelli, who announced his retirement on the eve of this year’s running of the Rolex 24, put in a stunning performance in his farewell drive, leading several laps in both wet and dry conditions, and setting the #10 Cadillac’s fastest lap of the race – a race that was decided by just 0.671 seconds at the line.
“Oh, it’s just wonderful,” said Angelelli after the race. “I’m just speechless. I could not believe it. What better than this? I’m very happy. Happy for what I did and what I’ve achieved with the boys and Jeff today, to finish my career with a win, a big win like this one in the Rolex 24, it’s great.”
And it ends in storybook fashion for the 50-year-old Italian, who retires as a two-time Rolex 24 champion, having last won it in 2005, also with Wayne Taylor Racing. Angelelli is also a two-time premier class champion in IMSA’s predecessor, the Grand-Am Sports Car Series, and with this, the twenty-eighth win of his career, Angelelli is now the third-winningest driver in the history of top-level sports car racing in America.
One of the best drivers in his field in Amerca, Max “the Axe” Angelelli’s road took a tour through what was then known as the All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship mid-way through the 1998 season. He joined Manabu Orido to drive the #19 WedsSport Toyota Celica for Racing Project BANDOH.
Angelelli only drove three races for the WedsSport team, and it would be the only three races of his JGTC career, but he immediately showed the form that would make him a legend in the States, with two podium finishes at Twin Ring Motegi and Central Park Miné, and a pole position at the technical Miné Circuit.
“This has been one of my most difficult races,” Angelelli said after his final stint of the race earlier on Sunday. “I was hoping to have a little easier dry race, but that did not happen. My career has been a rollercoaster, from a complete disaster to a lot of success. It has been long and difficult.”
Finishing third behind a Cadillac 1-2 led by Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing, a surprise third-place finish for the #90 Visit Florida Racing Riley Mk. 30-Gibson, piloted by Rene Rast, Renger van der Zande, and former GT500 race winner Marc Goossens.
“To end up on the podium today is just amazing and all the credit goes to the team,” Goossens said after the race. The Riley prototype was particularly strong when it was raining at Daytona, and they drove a clean race to take an overall podium.
In the ultra-competitive GT Le Mans (GTE) category, the #911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet, Dirk Werner, and former Super GT driver and Suzuka 1000km winner Frederic Makowiecki came out the victor in a thrilling battle for second place in the category, and sixth overall.
Pilet edged out the #62 Risi Competitzione Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado at the line by just 0.091 seconds, and until the last safety car intervention, was challenging the #66 Ford GT of Dirk Müller, Joey Hand, and Sebastien Bourdais for the class lead.
Ultimately, the #66 Ford won GTLM, but it was an impressive debut for the new mid-engined 911 RSR.
Further down the GTLM order, BMW Team Studie third driver Augusto Farfus finished eighth in class, 12th overall, in the BMW Team RLL M6 co-driven by Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims, and Farfus’ longtime DTM running mate, Bruno Spengler.
Current Super GT driver, and last year’s GT500 runner-up Andrea Caldarelli, finished seventh in the GT Daytona (GT3) category, 24th overall, in the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with co-drivers Bryan Sellers, Bryce Miller, Madison Snow, and Dion von Moltke.
“This was my first experience racing in the United States. It was a great race, but very difficult,” Caldarelli said after the race. “We had difficult conditions, especially during the night. It was a challenge for the drivers, and for the team calling the strategy, and the tires, and everything. We had our ups and downs during the race, which is normal for a race like this. We had an issue at the beginning that stopped us for three laps at the beginning that we weren’t able to get back in the end.”
“It’s a pity, but we did all we could do. We showed we could be quick. The team deserved a better result, but we did a great job and had a great recovery from the start.”
Undoubtedly it was a race of mixed fortunes for the Super GT drivers in GTD, with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, and former GT300 race winner Dominik Farnbacher relegated to 14th in GTD (36th overall) after a frightening puncture in the night shift. Before then, their RC F GT3 showed competitive pace that bodes well for its upcoming debut in the 2017 Super GT series.
Former GT500 champion Loïc Duval, and former Excellence Porsche Team KTR driver Jörg Bergmeister, never saw the chequered flag at Daytona. Duval’s #81 DragonSpeed Racing Oreca 07-Gibson retired with two hours remaining due to a rear wing failure, after clawing back to as high as fifth overall.
Bergmeister’s #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R was wiped out three hours into the race, when co-driver Matt McMurry was hit by a Prototype Challenge (PC) class car, sending McMurry into a hard head-on crash. Fortunately, he was able to leave the car uninjured.